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Reagan v. Underdog

I cried and remembered feeling sad when Reagan took office.  I was 6, in the first grade and lived with my family in  a small starter home, our first, in a working class multi-ethnic naval town in Northern California. Don’t get me wrong, I was no political prodigy . Nor was I a young psychic that understood what misfortunes were about to be unleashed on the country my parents had decided to invest with all their hopes and ambitions 6 years earlier. An already exceedingly unjust world was going to change for the worse. Lots of people like my parents were about  to begin a long steady descent away from their middle class aspirations. The third world, from which my parents and so many others had recently fled, was also going to continue on a descent which began when the first Europeans reached their shores, a decline now accelerated by the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s  Structural Adjustment Loan Programs. At home we were embarking on Reaganomics. We were supposed to sit tight and wait until something started to trickle down our faces.

If you’d asked me I would have told you I liked Jimmy Carter’s face. Those pouty lips and his large gentle, wide-set eyes. I didn’t know about inflation or gas prices. I didn’t know the Olympics mattered so much to people. No, you’re right, I wasn’t destined to be a great political strategist. But, it was the start of a lifelong identification with the underdog, the downtrodden, the misunderstood, and the social misfit. As I think about it now, a kindred spirit must have modeled Underdog, a favorite cartoon from childhood after President Carter. Underdog, in his human form was weak and sniveling but then could tap some well of unknown power and become Underdog, superhero and crime fighter, moral crusader. Oh, Underdog! Sigh.

My mother’s love of J.R. Ewing and her dedicated viewership of shows like Dallas and Dynasty were typical of the deepening political rift growing between me and my family.   Among my mother’s immodest dreams were to own a ranch with horses, to have nice cars and to take vacations. My mother never forgot that my father had made her walk several miles uphill on their honeymoon in Mussoorie because he didn’t want to pay for a horse-drawn cart. Now she had credit cards, lots of them, and he was going to pay,  with interest.

The reality of my parents working life was a harsh contrast to their dreams. They were Teamsters fighting for seniority in a factory that made millions selling sugared water to a soon to be diabetic population, my father among them. My mother was sexually harassed and intimidated on the job resulting in part from her proud and defiant demeanor. My father generally kept his head down and never stood up for her. My parents came home with bruised bodies full of gratitude to have a job that paid Overtime. One by one the surrounding factories in the Bay Area closed down. Coke. Pepsi. A spice plant here. An ice cream factory there. The Richmond Beverage Plant, where they worked, somehow avoided closure and  relocation oversees. Throughout our childhood, my sisters and I had a mouth full of growing cavities but none of us ever connected our consumption of large quantities of cola, grape soda and root beer with our frequent trips to the dentist. My mother insisted we’d inherited the inferior genes and  bad teeth of my father’s side of the family.

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